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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 8 December 2003

Topic: Iraq

"Who would Jesus assassinate?" We ask our consultants.
Lieutenant General William "Jerry" Boykin and his Christian Army learn from the Israelis

This is interesting. Israeli consultants at Fort Bragg.

If you've followed the news, we have started doing in Iraq what the Sharon government does so well in Gaza and the Left Bank: targeted assassinations, destroying homes as a "disincentive" to those who support our enemy, capturing and holding the relatives (wives and children) of the bad guys to get them to give themselves up. And that last item, although it kind of sounds like kidnapping and a sort of ransom demand from one point of view, from another point of view it's simply a way to win this thing.

Here we have and interesting item:

Israel trains US assassination squads in Iraq
Julian Borger in Washington, The Guardian (UK), Tuesday December 9, 2003
Israeli advisers are helping train US special forces in aggressive counter-insurgency operations in Iraq, including the use of assassination squads against guerrilla leaders, US intelligence and military sources said yesterday.

The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) has sent urban warfare specialists to Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the home of US Special Forces, and according to two sources, Israeli military "consultants" have also visited Iraq.

US forces in Iraq's Sunni triangle have already begun to use tactics that echo Israeli operations in the occupied territories, sealing off centres of resistance with razor wire and razing buildings from where attacks have been launched against US troops.

But the secret war in Iraq is about to get much tougher, in the hope of suppressing the Ba'athist-led insurgency ahead of next November's presidential elections.

US special forces teams are already behind the lines inside Syria attempting to kill foreign jihadists before they cross the border, and a group focused on the "neutralisation" of guerrilla leaders is being set up, according to sources familiar with the operations.

"This is basically an assassination programme. That is what is being conceptualised here. This is a hunter-killer team," said a former senior US intelligence official, who added that he feared the new tactics and enhanced cooperation with Israel would only inflame a volatile situation in the Middle East.

"It is bonkers, insane. Here we are - we're already being compared to Sharon in the Arab world, and we've just confirmed it by bringing in the Israelis and setting up assassination teams."
Well, I guess it gets the job done.

Some of us may find such activities objectionable, either morally, or for strategic reasons, thinking such tactics cause more problems in how this will all work out. When the immediate tactics (get the bad guys) work against the overall strategic goal (make them understand our way of life is great stuff so they want to be just like us) - then there is a problem.

The justification for using the "Sharon Method" for getting things settled over there?
...Colonel Ralph Peters, a former army intelligence officer and a critic of Pentagon policy in Iraq, said yesterday there was nothing wrong with learning lessons wherever possible.

"When we turn to anyone for insights, it doesn't mean we blindly accept it," Colonel Peters said. "But I think what you're seeing is a new realism. The American tendency is to try to win all the hearts and minds. In Iraq, there are just some hearts and minds you can't win. Within the bounds of human rights, if you do make an example of certain villages it gets the attention of the others, and attacks have gone down in the area."

The new counter-insurgency unit made up of elite troops being put together in the Pentagon is called Task Force 121, New Yorker magazine reported in yesterday's edition.

One of the planners behind the offensive is a highly controversial figure, whose role is likely to inflame Muslim opinion: Lieutenant General William "Jerry" Boykin.

In October, there were calls for his resignation after he told a church congregation in Oregon that the US was at war with Satan, who "wants to destroy us as a Christian army".
You see on bumper stickers and on shirts and baseball caps, "What would Jesus do?" It seems clear. He smites the enemy, hard, to get their attention. He makes examples of civilian villages. He sends assassination teams into faraway places to "take out" the bad guys - before they can do bad things. Just like you learned in Sunday School, right? Jesus was no wimp. And this is war.

It's hard to raise objections here. I may not be very religious, but most of the nation is, and I suspect thinks Boykin is right - slap these dusky, godless folks upside the head to make `em behave.

And it is unfair to object to this policy as something we, as the good guys, the civilized people, shouldn't do - because we are the people who clearly and unambiguously elected the current folks in power to act in our name, and do these things. We put them there, fair and square - sort of.

And the senators and congressmen we elected to represent us voted to sanction whatever was necessary to fight terrorism, and that included this war, the Patriot Act and the business of those we hold incommunicado at Guant?namo (the new "disappeared" as it were).

If you don't like all this, elect other people to represent you. If you can. Ha, ha.

Posted by Alan at 21:47 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 9 December 2003 13:27 PST home

Topic: Bush

History: What you don't know can't hurt you. Maybe. Maybe not.

Are these posts too detailed and full of odd historical references? Is Iraq going as badly as Vietnam did for us? Were the events of September 11, 2001 parallel to the attack at Pearl Harbor? Will the French experience in Algiers help us deal with things in Baghdad, as the Pentagon hopes? Is Bush repeating the heresy of Manicheism that the Christian church rejected centuries ago?

"History never repeats itself. It only seems like it does to those who don't know the details."
Edmund S. Morgan - Edmund S. Morgan is Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale. His latest book is Benjamin Franklin (Yale University Press)

I came across this Morgan quote on Josh Marshall's site Talking Points Memo - and Josh thinks he remembers the wording pretty well. If not, it's a good thought. Knowing what happened in the past, and why, and what it led to, could be useful. Or not. I think it is. Morgan seems to think the more you look at details, the more you see things just don't repeat themselves.

Should one be aware of what happened before in similar circumstances? Does the past inform the present?

I don't know, of course.

But we are led by a man who prides himself on following his "gut instincts" - who doesn't like details, or books, or folks who think about things that came before. Not a curious fellow. Let's call him spontaneous.

That has its charm, of course. Hell of a way to run a country - willfully ignoring detail and complexity and what happened before. But dynamic. And that certainly appeals to people. No one is ever bored. Some are dead - but no one is bored.

For other views, over on the History News Network Quotes About History we get these:

"A country without a memory is a country of madmen." - George Santayana
No, we're not led by madmen. They know exactly what they're doing. Some of us don't like what they're doing exactly, but that's what elections are for. When they work properly.

"History, history! We fools, what do we know or care...." - William Carlos Williams
Hemingway's friend and fellow WWI ambulance driver, the doctor (MD) and poet from Patterson, New Jersey who writes about that red wheelbarrow and that ripe plum, is just being bitter here. Well, no one liked that First World War. A bad business.

"People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them." - James Baldwin
He should know.

History. Yeah, yeah. Who cares? I just like knowing about things, about people and events. My problem.

Posted by Alan at 19:50 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 9 December 2003 13:30 PST home

Topic: Iraq

"Hearts and Minds" stuff...

Lt. Colonel Nathan Sassaman commands a battalion that controls the Iraqi town of Abu Hishma.

Sassaman is quoted in Tough New Tactics by U.S. Tighten Grip on Iraq Towns (New York Times, December 7): "With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them."

A heavy dose of fear and violence can convince these people we are here to help them.

Captain Todd Brown: "You have to understand the Arab mind. The only thing they understand is force."

Consider this:

U.S. Policy in Iraq Vanishing Down the Rabbit Hole
by Ira Chernus, Common Dreams, Monday, December 08, 2003
This is the theory now guiding U.S. policy in Iraq. It's the same policy that guided U.S. policy in Vietnam. There is no territory to be won or lost. There is simply a contest of wills between the occupier and the occupied.

It didn't work in Vietnam. It won't work in Iraq.

Captain Brown explained clearly, if unwittingly, one good reason why it won't work. After explaining that "the Arab mind" understands only force, he added: "force, pride and saving face." Wounded pride can stir up a powerful resistance.

But the importance of saving face can easily be exaggerated. Long ago, European imperialists created a stereotype of "the Arab mind" that included a hugely exaggerated concern with pride and saving face. This helped the colonial powers convince themselves that "the Arab mind" was excessively emotional, inherently irrational, and thus incapable of moving into the modern world where logic and pragmatism rule. The Arabs would remain stuck in their memories of medieval glory and their wounded pride, it was said, unless the Europeans pushed, pulled, educated, and cajoled them into modernity.

Now the U.S. has taken up where the Europeans left off.
Chernus argues that the Americans cannot admit that domination is their goal. They must believe they are there only to help. They must convince themselves that Iraq is "a backward nation, unfamiliar with and incapable of the ways of the modern world." Then they "can picture themselves as educators and saviors, taking up the old white man's burden."
If only the stubborn, irrational "natives" would realize that the occupiers are there to help, everything would be fine. So the Americans must fondly imagine that they will persuade the Iraqis to want their "help." Just like the colonizers of old, they plan to do it with force and violence.
Well, it could work, I suppose.

It just doesn't seem likely.

Posted by Alan at 14:27 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 9 December 2003 13:22 PST home

Topic: Photos

Hollywood Hills, Monday, 8 December 2003 7:15 am PST

No more rain. No smog. Not even any clouds.

Posted by Alan at 07:23 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 9 December 2003 09:36 PST home

Sunday, 7 December 2003

Topic: Bush

George Bush: The Manicheism Candidiate? Manichian? Whatever. Trust me. This will make sense.
Notes on the Mentality of the Conservative Evangelicals

Manicheism: This ancient heresy divides all of reality in two: Absolute Good and Absolute Evil. The Christian church rejected Manicheism as heretical many centuries ago. But on the day after 9/11, the President first stated the position he would continue to maintain: "This will be a monumental struggle of good versus evil, but good will prevail." Later Bush defined his enemies as the "axis of evil," a term that is theologically and morally loaded.

I came across this in the December 22, 2003 issue of The Nation and found it helpful. Bush's Religious Language by Juan Stam, translated by Thomas E. Ambrogi. The longer version, in Spanish, is available at Signos de Vida if you'd like. Juan Stam is a theologian and structural linguistics fellow from Costa Rica. He's one of those guys who talks about religious history and about metalanguage.

Stam sets the issue like this:
George W. Bush began to take part in a Bible study group in 1985, after two decades of binge drinking. For two years he studied the Scriptures and put his heavy drinking behind him. In that same process, he succeeded in refocusing his life, which had been diffused and confused, into a coherent cosmic vision - or ideology - which corresponded to the mentality of the conservative evangelicals of his country.

When Bush decided to run for office, political strategist Karl Rove helped him make the link with the evangelical sector. While other candidates were discussing polemical themes, Rove advised him that it was much better for him to simply speak about his faith. Bush presented himself as "a man with Jesus in his heart." When a reporter asked him who his favorite philosopher was, Bush replied: "Christ, because he changed my heart." That corresponded perfectly to the extreme individualism of fundamentalism, and it constituted what in the metalanguage of evangelical code words is called "personal witness."

Politically, Bush's discourse has been very effective, but theologically the results have been more problematic, as evident in particular in three areas.
Well, Stam ponders how, given that "state of sublime innocence in his own country, like Adam and Eve in paradise," Bush can muster only one explanation for the terrorists' hatred of his nation: "There are people who hate freedom." In other words, they are so evil that they abhor the good because it is good.

Say what?

And Stam asks if the terrorists hate freedom, why have they not attacked Canada, which he says in some respects is "more democratic" than the United States? Why is there not the same hatred for Switzerland, Holland or his own Costa Rica? Ah yep. Good questions.

And Stam observes this:
Bush does not seem to have much hesitation in identifying God with his own project. In a speech in September 2002, Bush cited a Christological text in reference to his war project: "And the light [America] has shone in the darkness [the enemies of America], and the darkness will not overcome it [America shall conquer its enemies]." When he appeared in a flight suit aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, he said to the troops: "And wherever you go, you carry a message of hope--a message that is ancient and ever new. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, 'To the captives, come out! to those who are in darkness, be free!'"
Well, we're all used to this.

And Stam's other gripe?
Manipulation of Prayer: True prayer does not pretend to tell God what we want Him to do but rather asks that God tell us what He wishes us to do. We do not pray in order to enlist God in our ranks but to examine ourselves, to change and to do God's will. Therefore, the confession of sin and repentance are crucial moments in prayer and worship. Prayer has played a role without precedent in the Bush presidency and in the propaganda of the evangelicals who support him. Photos of Bush at prayer are common. Great publicity was given to the fact that during a prime-time news conference shortly before his speech giving the ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, Bush asked his advisers to leave him alone for ten minutes. In evangelical symbolism, that meant that a man of prayer was going to commune with God, somewhat like Moses on Mount Sinai.

It is remarkable how closely Bush's discourse coincides with that of the false prophets of the Old Testament. While the true prophets proclaimed the sovereignty of Yahweh, the God of justice and love who judges nations and persons, the false prophets served Baal, who could be manipulated by the powerful. Karl Marx concluded that religion is "the opium of the people." But Marx never knew committed Christians like Camilo Torres of Colombia, Oscar Arnulfo Romero of El Salvador, Frank Pais of Cuba, Ernesto Cardenal of Nicaragua, Dietrich Bonhoeffer of Germany or Martin Luther King Jr. of the United States. How paradoxical, and how sad, that the President of the United States, with his heretical manipulation of religious language, insists on proving Karl Marx right.
Wait a second! This guy just said Bush is a heretic who proves Karl Marx was right, at least about religion. Cool!

Posted by Alan at 16:55 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 9 December 2003 13:22 PST home

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